My God in My Chaos

To say that my last two months have been crazy and chaotic is an under statement. Actually, my world was turned upside down and inside out. God opened doors but Satan came swooping in to trip me up (literally, in one case). My faith was challenged and my family was and has been stretched thin. But through it all, God has been my stronghold and mighty fortress. He has been my life preserver when it felt like I was drowning. God has been awesome and amazing. If only I had kept my eyes open, it would have gone so much better.

The following is a summary of the wild events that took place and the subsequent faithfulness of my God:

Sunday, June 13 ~ I received and accepted a call to Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Buffalo Center, IA.

Monday, June 14 ~ I got up early in the morning as I normally do. After getting into the bathroom I became light-headed (doctors later determined I was dehydrated). I passed out and upon falling and hitting the floor, I fractured the right side of my face in three places. The next thing I remember is my wife standing over me. Thankfully she heard the thud of my fall. I spent the next 36 hours in the hospital, all in the ER as there were no regular rooms available. It was a miserable experience.

Tuesday, June 15 ~ I returned home with a dent in my face, broken facial bones and swelling. I was on a no sneezing or blowing my nose restriction. Let me tell you, that was no picnic for a guy with allergies. Two hours after returning home, I attended the scheduled council meeting at Living Word Lutheran Church and submitted my resignation. This had been the plan since Sunday, just not my hospital stay.

June 15 and following ~ I began sitting at home icing my broken face and beating myself up. I was thinking that I could have prevented this if only I had returned to bed or sat on the floor when I got light-headed. The guilt on my shoulders was heavy as I saw my family paying the price (at least that is how I saw it).

Sunday, June 20 ~ Not feeling very well, I lead worship and announced my resignation to the congregation. A very emotional day.

Thursday, June 24 ~ I had my pre-op appointment and got scheduled for surgery. This was also the beginning of four dark days for me. Because of the fall, my back arthritis was exasperated causing me a great deal of pain. The weird thing was that it took just over a week to flare up. I would eventually end up on crutches. And to make matters worse, the one thing that would have alleviated my pain – Advil – I could not take because of my up coming surgery. The next few days I was literally crying out to God. I am not afraid to say it, but there were a lot of tears shed.

Sunday, June 27 ~ Still in a lot of pain, I wasn’t sure how I was going to lead worship. But before even asking, a retired pastor in the congregation was already prepared to help me. A power outage, though, eventually canceled in-person worship so I got to live stream worship from the comforts of my couch.

Monday, June 28 (9 AM) ~ What a way to start my first day of vacation – a broken face and surgery looming. But first things first, I had one more chiropractor appointment before surgery. Upon returning home from that appointment, I was in so much back pain I could barely step up into my house. There was more crying out and more tears.

June 28 (12:30 PM) ~ We left for Seattle for surgery, but more importantly, God alleviated my back pain.

June 28 (2 PM) ~ I checked in for surgery. It was supposed to be a 1 1/2 hour procedure to have one small titanium plate put into my face. When they got in there, though, they found more bone fragments than expected and had to put in a bigger plate and an additional L-shaped plate. Four hours later I was in recovery and returned home later that night.

Tuesday, June 29 and following ~ (remember, I’m on vacation) Because of my recovery we had to cancel our annual family vacation back to the Midwest. There was much sadness over that (and some tears). And, I felt incredibly guilty as I was still blaming myself.

Sunday, August 1 ~ I presided over my final worship service at Living Word Lutheran Church. Another very emotional day.

Monday, August 2 ~ I had my third and final post-op appointment and my doctor was extremely pleased and impressed with my recovery. Some of the numbness had gone away which surprised her.

Now:
I’m Iron Man (my wife is rolling her eyes someplace) and feeling much better. I still have some numbness in my face due to the crushed nerve from my fall, but I am getting more and more feeling back. It could be a year or more before all the feeling is back (if it ever does come back). My back is much better but still gets stiff if I over do it. All in all, I am returning to more and more normal activities and for that I praise God.

Why am I writing all of this:
I say all of this to glorify God because, after all, He is awesome.
It is HIM who sustained me and my family during this chaos.
It is HIM who kept me grounded.
It is HIM who brought me healing.
I could not have kept my sanity and my faith if it were not for my amazing, awesome and faithful God. And those dark moments days before surgery — yes, they were scary and awful. I thought I was abandoned and left alone to suffer, but that was not the case. I was never alone. I simply had my eyes closed and did not see my Father standing there with His arms wide open. I wish I had opened my eyes, but now I know. I know for certain. My Father will never leave me.

Chaos, suffering, pain in one’s life is not the absence of God. It is a result of the sinfulness of our world. The Good News is that God has overcome the sin of this world and has redeemed you and me through Jesus Christ. I was never alone. YOU are never alone. Through Jesus I have the victory. Through Jesus YOU have the victory. I am a child of God. Through Jesus YOU are a child of God. In your suffering, open your eyes and see. Your Father is there.

So there you have it — to God be ALL the glory!

Amen!

Thoughts and Ways

The following is my second to last article for The News Tribune (Tacoma). My final article is due to be published on August 1 – my final Sunday at Living Word. It has been a joy to write these articles over the years. A big THANK YOU to The News Tribune for publishing these articles. I hope continue writing articles after I get settled in my new call in Buffalo Center, Iowa. I begin serving there on August 29. To God be the glory – always. Amen.


We have an awesome, incredible, loving, and gracious God. He is mighty to save. He is abundant in mercy. He is faithful to never, ever turn His back on us. Though we may not understand or enjoy the circumstances, God is in complete control. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” But I still wish I understood better God’s thoughts and ways because it gets frustrating when things do not go my way.


I never would have planned these past few weeks. My family and I were supposed to go to the Midwest and vacation with family over the July 4th holiday. This is an annual event to which we look forward, but unfortunate circumstances in my life changed those thoughts and ways. I will save you all the details lest I take glory away from God. Suffice it to say, it was an injury that required surgery, but I am doing well now. We had planned our way and were thinking thoughts, but all of that got thrown up in the air and scattered in the wind. There was much lamenting and even a few tears over why this was happening. I even had a couple dark moments when I felt utterly alone and abandoned. I began to relate to the psalmist at times as he lamented and wondered where God was. But as I wrote earlier, God was and is faithful to never, ever turn His back on His children. God never abandoned me.


In the grand scheme of things, my pain and discomfort really was and is not that bad, especially when I think of what others are going through. But I like my ways and thoughts and thus when they get disrupted, I whine. But I praise God that He is faithful. Though I may whine at times, God is still there to remind me that He has a bigger picture in mind. I still do not understand why my circumstances happened, but I know a bigger “why” that leads me to worship this faithful, grace-filled, loving God. I am a sinner, but Jesus died on the cross that I could be forgiven and thus have eternal life with God. The “why” of everything – God is merciful and full of grace and love.


My thoughts and ways are of this world, but God’s thoughts and ways are much bigger. Though things get tough now, God is walking you through them and will never let you go. Though things are confusing, God knows exactly where you are going. Though you disagree with God’s ways and thoughts, trust that, in all His sovereignty, God’s plan is perfect and God’s purpose in your life is holy. Therefore always remember, we have an awesome, incredible, loving, and gracious God. He is mighty to save. He is abundant in mercy. He is faithful to never, ever turn His back on you. Amen.

Prayer in Weakness

Whatever weakness or vulnerability you are facing, may You know the grace and love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. He will never leave you nor will He desert you, leaving you to deal with your affliction alone. He is faithful and will be your strength. Praise Him in the storm. Praise Him always and forever. Praise Him. Let us pray…

Oh God,
I feel weak and vulnerable, frail and helpless. My strength has been melted away. But, You never promised the easy way in this life, but Jesus did promise to be with us to the very end of the age.
Oh my God,
sustain me in that promise.
For that promise, in the midst of affliction and weakness, is what gives me strength and hope. It cheers my heart when I am down and lifts me up when it feels I am at rock bottom.

May I not forget Your faithfulness.

Though my body feels frail, you are my strength.
Though I feel vulnerable, You are my Helper.
Though I feel useless, Your Spirit still works through me.
Though I feel pain, You are my Comforter.
Though I feel hopeless at times, You never desert me.
Though I feel overwhelmed, You are in complete control.

Oh God, my Father, Sustainer, Good Shepherd, Sovereign God, Lord and my Rock,
I praise You in the storm.
Though the waves are crashing into my boat,
You hold me tight
and will not let me be swept away.
Though the winds are blowing hard against me,
You hold me firm
and have placed me upon the Rock.
And so I beseech You,
Oh my God,
bind Satan that he may not drive me to despair.
Cast him away that my strength is not in fighting him,
but rather,
spent glorifying You,
knowing that my strength is from You.
And so,
as I sit here,
may You be glorified despite and though my weakness,
for You are worthy,
and my Good God almighty.
It is in Jesus name I pray,
Amen.

Faithful God

Below is the article I submitted for publication at The News Tribune (Tacoma) for Sunday. To God be the glory!


Do you remember what life was like one year ago today? Businesses were open at full capacity. Students were learning in a physical classroom and not through a computer screen. We did not have to decide which face mask to wear today. Socially distancing from people was considered rude. Grandpa and grandma did not have to be isolated from the world. The toilet paper aisle in the grocery store was always fully stocked. And the word “pandemic” was associated with the Spanish Flu of 1918.

Just think, a year ago today we knew little about COVID-19 except that there something was out there making people sick. There were no pandemic restrictions and life was moving along smoothly. But within a couple weeks, everything changed as life seemed to come to a screeching halt. We may never be the same again, but maybe that is okay. Maybe things needed to change. But whatever the case, one thing is certain, God has been and always will be faithful.

As I look back on this past year, I see a God who continued to provide for His Church. I see a Church that adapted to circumstances, took advantages of opportunities, and continued to be the Church. I see a Church that was never shut down despite the narrative that the world tells. I see a God who has made us stronger. Many of you have been drawn closer to our Father in heaven. Many of you have developed a deeper faith in Him. Some have drifted away. Some are angry or questioning God. And many are even mocking Christians for continuing to cling to God amid this pandemic.

Yes, life has changed; it has changed a lot of things and people. Just like how 9/11 changed air travel forever, the COVID-19 pandemic will change how we interact with people and/or how we deal with the next virus that comes along. But never forget, through it all, God has been glorified, but that still does not mean we quit praying. Pray, pray, and pray some more that this pandemic ends. But more than that, pray, pray, and pray some more that people come to know God through Jesus Christ. That is why we are here and that is why God has been faithful. Nothing can stop God from advancing His will and purposes. Nothing can shut down the Church. Nothing can destroy the Body of Christ.

One year ago life was different, but that can be said about any time in history. Therefore we take the good with the bad and continue to praise God for His faithfulness. Hang in there! This world is indeed coming to an end, but God’s Kingdom lasts forever. Cling to the truth, that promise, that certainty. And in one year, let’s chat about this again and see where we are. To God be the glory, always and forever, Amen.

God Is Not Absent

In the midst of hardships and tragedies, our awesome God is not absent but ever present – longing to calm the storm. Maybe he does not calm the storm raging all around you, but through Jesus Christ he calms the storm in your heart. For these storms do not define you and they definitely do not direct your destiny. These storms are not your eternal reality and they are definitely not sovereign over you. Yes, storms do rage and toss you to and fro, but Jesus not only walks on the storm, he tramples it as he reaches out to you with grace and compassion. In no way are you required to fight the waves to get to a safe haven, but Jesus simply reaches out his hand upon your faith-filled plea for help.

No, storms are not a sign of God’s absence but just the opposite. Satan wants you to fail, crumble, knuckle under and give up, but God will be gloried and thus He will give you what you need to make that happen. Do not cry out wondering why God left, rather worship Him and know that He is faithful to not let Satan consume you.

Maybe you are not going through a storm at the moment, but someone is. Pray for them that they may see God through Jesus Christ. Pray for a hedge of protection around them to keep Satan at bay. Pray for God’s glory to shine through their storm. Pray, pray and then pray some more. God is not an absent God. He is an ever-present God in times of trouble. Do not forget this.

GOD – IS – NOT – ABSENT!

God is faithful and God is FOR YOU. Call out to Him. Go head. God is listening.

All glory, honor, praise and thanksgiving be unto our awesome God through Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen!

Benediction ~ Promised Kingdom

Another benediction that I plan to debut on Sunday…

As a pillar of cloud and fire led the Israelites by day and night through the wilderness without fail, may the Holy Spirit guide and bless you in through your wilderness. As their resources and strength never failed know that God will never fail you. As God fought for them, know that God fights for you. As God brought them into the Promised Land, know that through faith in Jesus Christ, you will enter His Promised Kingdom. As God remained faithful to them, Go in peace knowing God will always be faithful to you.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Confident Praying

For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me; you take me out of the net they have hidden for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord , faithful God. [Psalms 31:3‭-‬5 ESV]


Just think on those verses for a moment. Go ahead, I’ll wait…

[Pondering]

…and now consider this: Into your hand I commit my spirit are words that Jesus prayed while on the cross – right before he breathed his last breath (Luke 23:46). With his dying breath he was praying the Word of God. No doubt, the rest of this Psalm was on his heart as he was dying:

~ You are my rock and fortress.
~ For Your name’s sake You, oh Father, lead me and guide me.
~ You are my deliverer – taking me out of their net.
~ You are my refuge.
~ My life is Yours for You have redeemed me.
~ Father, You are faithful.

What a powerful prayer to be prayed at that time. A prayer of faith, for Jesus knows the Father like no one else. Jesus knew what was coming and thus he endured the cross FOR YOU. Jesus knew his Father was and is faithful. Jesus knew God’s plan would be fulfilled. Jesus knew God would be glorified. Knowing all of this, Jesus prayed with confidence – praying for your salvation – and with his dying breath.

And now, we sit here on this side of the cross looking back. Looking back to see Jesus’ incredible love for you and for me. He died for our sins and rose from the grave that we could have the hope of the resurrection. He committed his life to God and His plan of redemption so we could be saved. What an awesome God we have. Knowing this and knowing that God wants to hear from us, it behooves us to commune with Him.

But maybe you are feeling dry in your prayer life or just need something different. Try praying the Psalms like Jesus did. Pray Psalm 31, for example, and let the Holy Spirit carry you on a wave of joy – splashing you with the love of God. Start with verse one and then meditate – praying what comes to mind, and then move on to the next verse and so on – taking your time. It is like you are carrying on a conversation with God. He speaks to you through His Word and you pray back to him. And then God speaks and then you. What a fun scene. A child and daddy communing together in intimate joy.

If you run out of time, that’s alright. Just pick up where you leave off next time. Pray, pray and pray some more. Pray with confidence – in faith – and through your dying breath, knowing:
~ God is your rock and fortress.
~ For His name’s sake, God will lead and guide you.
~ God is your deliverer – taking you out of the nets set for you.
~ God is your refuge.
~ Your life is His for God has redeemed you through Jesus Christ.
~ Your Father is faithful.

Jesus prayed this with complete confidence and thus, through faith, you can and should as well. God wants you to. Give thanks and praise and worship to God – committing your life to Him. Pray confidently, as Jesus did. Take refuge in God and chat with your heavenly daddy. He’s waiting for you.

So, are you ready? Okay then, let’s pray…

A Great Adventure

Three and a half years ago, You called me to follow You on a great adventure.
I left a land I grew up in (Minnesota) and moved to a new land (Western Washington).
You called me from a congregation that I gave my heart to for 12 years and sent me to a “church in a box” – a people unknown to me.
To say that I was nervous is to put it mildly, but my family and me went and followed You — and You have been faithful.
The call was to help build a church – in more ways than one. In one way I have been doing that for 3 1/2 years, but now You, oh God, are getting all literal on me.
You are now calling me to new territory again: Moving a congregation to a different community and losing our “church in the box” description.
To say that I am nervous is to put it mildly, but I will go and follow You — and I know You will be faithful.
Oh God, as You led Abraham to an unknown territory so lead me.
As you have led this congregation for 10 years, please continue to do so.
I don’t know what I am doing but You know and that is all that matters.
Even though I confess my nervousness here and now, I know You won’t abandon me.
I believe, help my unbelief.
And so, oh God, I give this all to you.
Let us go, once again, on great adventure together.
To You be the glory, oh God, always and forever.
Amen.

Psalm of Discernment

Oh Lord, Your voice seems so far from me,
Your voice seems so distant.
The sound of Your voice is so very quiet,
Their words are lost on me.
I strain my ears to hear You,
I lean in to catch Your voice.
Oh Lord, why can’t I hear?
Why is the air so silent?
But I know You are not far,
For You are closer to me than I am to myself.
I know Your voice is not weak,
For Your created with a powerful word.
I know that You won’t leave me hanging,
For Your will, will be done.
Oh Lord, the silence is deafening,
it is loud in my ears,
but to You I cling,
and therefore I find my peace.
I know You will speak to me,
In You I place my trust.
To You be the glory,
forever and ever.
To You be everlasting praise.
Oh Lord, I will wait for Your voice.

Thank You

I cannot see the wind but I feel it on my face.
I cannot see the air but I know it’s necessary to live.
I cannot see nutrients but I know they sustain my body.
I cannot see Your Spirit but I know it gives me Life.
Working behind the scenes.
Working without much notice.
You bless my days.
You bless my days with grace and love.
You bless my life with Your Son.
You give and give,
but yet I don’t thank as I should.
Your blessings come and come,
but I go about my days.
All that You do would be noticed if You stayed Your gracious hand.
Oh Lord, please do not stay Your hand as You should.
Oh Lord, as stand before You as a blessed one.
Oh Lord, thank You.